Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ten Things Principals can do to Improve the College-Going Culture in Their Building

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

With National School Counselor Week next week, your principal may be wondering how to honor your work.  Slip this to their administrative assistant, and see what happens—and be sure to remind them if you prefer dark or milk chocolate.

1.      Ask this your school counselors how you can be of help.  School counselors are the coordinators of the college-going curriculum in your building, so keeping in touch with them keeps you in touch with the successes and needs of your college-going climate.  Meet with them regularly

2.      Support your school counselors.  Improvement in a college-going culture begins with support of those leading the creation of that culture.  There are five key ways administrators can show that support—understand all five, and be sure to ask your counselors what else you can do.

3.      Know the two parts of the college-going curriculum in your building.  College-going culture is far more than “getting in” to college.  The two parts—college awareness and college readiness-- are integral parts of every other curriculum in the building, and run the K-12 span.

4.      A college-going curriculum starts well before junior year.  You didn’t misread the last sentence in point 2.  Attitudes about college are shaped early, in both students and parents, so it’s crucial to have a college-going curriculum at every level of learning.

5.      Colleges want more than good grades and test scores.  These important data points reveal only part of the demonstrated qualities colleges want to see in applicants.  Extracurricular activities, service opportunities, essays, and recommendations address other qualities vital to a successful college application, including intelligence, creativity, critical thinking, persistence, reaction to setbacks, leadership, self-knowledge, innovation, synthesis, effective communication, empathy, curiosity, and analysis.

6.      A college-going curriculum doesn’t have to be built from the ground up.  A number of strong (and free) resources exist that are ready for your counselors to implement and tailor to the needs of your students and your community—for starters, see:

7.      College awareness is for every student.  Not every student needs to go to college to fulfill their personal or career goals, but every student needs to know what college offers before they can make that decision.  Make sure all students are involved in college awareness activities.

8.      All postsecondary plans have equal value.  Students who thoughtfully choose a path other than college are doing just as much for their families and communities as students who thoughtfully choose college.  Work with your school team to make sure the plans of all seniors are equally respected and celebrated.

9.      It takes a community to make students college-aware and college-ready.  A Counseling Advisory Committee consists of community leaders who come together for one goal—to support all counseling efforts in your building, including college-going.  This team leads to more scholarships, internships, and support with the logistics of applying to college.  This is an ASCA requirement—if you need help building one, take a look at

10.  Your counselors need more and frequent training in the college selection process.  Only two counselor education programs in the country require a college counseling course, and less than 30 offer one, so most counselors learn about college counseling on the job—and with high caseloads, that can be difficult.  More training is usually needed throughout a counselor’s career—for one possible training option, see the class I teach at

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